Bill Katz: TALIBAN RETURNS
CNN reports that the Taliban is increasing its grip on Afghan schools. The brutal organization, which opposes education for girls, is becoming increasingly visible and militant as the date for American withdrawal approaches. I always thought that one of our missions in Afghanistan was to destroy the Taliban, which ran a ghastly regime and protected Al Qaeda before the attacks of 9-11. Apparently I was misinformed. Even Obama conceded this week that Afghans will face an increased terror threat once American troops are pulled out.
FP: Remember after the initial operation all the promises and commitments that the US will not make the same mistakes as the Russians and all the powers preceding them and will not abandon Afghanistan? To me it was clear that the outcome would be identical to the others: a counterproductive waste that will leave no significant marks on the place.
Daniel Greenfield: To The Last Byte
The question isn't, "What is Facebook worth?", the real question is what are we worth? The secret of Facebook is that there is no Facebook, just reams of user data, information voluntarily submitted by hundreds of millions of people in exchange for a free ride, which is monetized by a company that makes nothing except increasingly broken code, by selling ads to companies hoping to convince consumers to buy the products manufactured by their Chinese partners.
There is a tremendous generation gap between the old giants which made things and traded them to people for money, and a new generation of companies, which offer connectivity services for free, build a monopoly over some element of the internet, and then squeeze companies looking to connect with consumers. Everyone is out to provide value, collect user information and begin running ads.
Why bother spending millions developing content, whether it's a television cop show or a news anchor reporting from some officially "war torn" part of the world, to pull in a million viewers or readers, when you can let ten thousand people create their own content and pull in a million viewers that way, and the only cost is the physical and programming infrastructure to make it all possible.
That doesn't mean Facebook is the future, it's already the past. Without an economic relationship, the only way to lock in users is by providing a vital service that can't be easily shifted. There's nothing Facebook offers that qualifies; the morass of daily user interactions don't need to moved, its users will one day leave them behind. Its only staying power is user inertia, and that has no future. Google has managed to sink its roots far deeper into the lives of its users than Facebook, which, for all its intimacy, is just another waypoint full of user data, that, like milk, loses value after freshness.
Whether Apple or Google comes out on top is of small meaning to the Chinese industrial machine. Android or iOS still run on Chinese hardware, much like Mark Zuckerberg's own genetic code will. The future doesn't belong to the revolutionaries, it belongs to the machine of revolution, and the machine of the digital revolution is not in California, it's across the ocean. The short term benefits of technological revolutions may fall to the end users, but the long term benefits go to the manufacturer who uses it to build up its infrastructure.
Making our economy fragmented and individualistic; has also made it portable and destructible, and the tycoons with their massive data caches and user habit algorithms are only making it easier to sell Chinese products to America, not vice versa. The empires, like the data, are speculative, their value, like that of our currency, rests primarily in the perception of value. Its economy is increasingly our economy, a vast marketplace of numbers that runs on technology made in Chengdu, Huizhou and Shenzen.
An economy of brands has no future because sooner or later the perceived value crashes and then nothing is left but a hole where an economy once was.
FP: Another argument that I have been making for a while now: a Facebook-Google-Twitter economy and nothing much else is not sustainable. It’s a temporary illusion.
Aaron Y. Zelin: Syria's New Jihadis
Whether or not JN was involved in the Damascus attack, the organization has become a real force in recent weeks -- and one that threatens to undermine the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the loose network of defectors and local militia fighting the government. Its main goals are to awaken Muslims to the atrocities of the Assad regime, and eventually take control of the state and implement its narrow and puritanical interpretation of Islamic law. To that end, in the past month alone, JN has perpetrated a series of suicide bombings and IED strikes -- and the pace of attacks seems to be growing.
FP: Do you recognize the pattern?
Tom Bartlett: Stolen Ideas? Or Great Minds Thinking Alike?
Figuring out whether someone committed plagiarism is usually straightforward. You compare the two texts to see how much of one appears verbatim in the other. Even if some words have been changed, there is often a pattern of similarities that can't be coincidental. It's not that hard.
Determining whether someone swiped an idea, or a set of ideas, is another beast entirely. In a review in the June 7 issue of The New York Review of Books, the possibility is raised that Terence W. Deacon, chairman of the anthropology department at the University of California at Berkeley, borrowed heavily and failed to credit core ideas in his book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter, from at least two scholars. Here's what the NYRB reviewer, Colin McGinn, a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, writes:
One would never think from reading Incomplete Nature that the author's main contentions have already been systematically developed by others, and that there is in fact hardly an original idea in the book. Two works, in particular, stand out in the prior literature: Dynamics in Action by Alicia Juarrero and Mind in Life by Evan Thompson. Neither book is cited by Deacon, although they cover much the same ground as his--far more lucidly and insightfully.
FP: Today’s academic caliber and character.
Only a “nutty” woman would hand a note to the stewardess . . . er, flight attendant, on a plane claiming to have a surgically implanted “device” in her body, right? And that’s exactly why the Al-Qaeda playbook recommends using nutty people or having people pretend they are nutty once they are caught in an attempted terrorist attack or a dry run for one. So, today, when a Cameroonian female immigrant to France–which is 20% Muslim according to the CIA Factbook (and most Cameroonians who emigrate to France are Muslim)–informs personnel on a US-bound flight that she has a ticking bomb inside of her, it was probably a dry run. Oh, and she had no luggage . . . for a trip from France to the U.S. She had no apparent scars on her body, so why would she threaten this?
Well, we’ve long heard of Al-Qaeda plots to implant bombs inside terrorists so that they can evade airport security. But we’ve never been faced with one before on a plane. And they probably want to see what we would do. And what we would do is . . . nothing. Turning around the plane or landing it is too late. Terrorists who actually have bombs inside of them might not inform airplane personnel. Or if they do, it’s right before detonation time. So, I believe this was a dry run, though I predict we’ll hear all kinds of stories about how she’s just a crazy lady. Nothing to see here, move along.
FP: Why did TSA not notice the no-baggage Muslim? And can their scanners detect an implanted explosive device? What is the TSA good for other than hassling travelers?
RICHARD PARKER: Commentary: China's secret? It owes Americans nearly $1 trillion